The sole telecom provider of the country, Ethio telecom, has announced a bid to partner with individuals for 94 franchised shops around the country. The franchises will provide services similar to those given in the existing service centres of the telecom giant.
Brand shops will include a technical support team for its customers, while engineers will also be assigned to every shop. Some of the centres will be two-storey buildings and will sell goods such as laptops, tablets, and smartphones while carrying out the usual services.
A pilot project to test the applicability of the plan was launched a couple of years ago, with the partnership of Kifiya Financial Technologies Plc, Hidase Telecom S.C and the Ethiopian Postal Service. The pilot franchise shops sold subscriber identification module (SIM) cards and scratch card vouchers while simultaneously providing the telecom's services.
"We took measures to assess the security risks in sharing the system with them," commented Andualem Admassie (PhD), CEO of Ethio telecom, on why the pilot project took longer than expected.
The location of these shops in Alem Gena, Wello Sefer and in the telecom's headquarters around Churchill Avenue was decided based on the concentration of customers around the centres.
Recently, despite Andualem's statement that the telecom is finding it hard to carry out its major projects for lack of hard currency, and the fact that there was a social media blackout throughout the past week, Ethio telecom has been expanding its services.
Last month, it launched an electronic payment system for prepaid mobile customers across 214 of its service centres. It also introduced Equipment Identity Registration System (EIRS) which registers mobile phones into their system, subsequently neutralising 2.7 million phones across the country.
"It will engage the private sector," said Andualem, rationalising the purpose of the bid as one that allows customers to also get services from firms specialising in the area.
By the end of the second quarter of 2017, the telecom had 61 million subscriptions, according to ITWeb, a business technology media company. This has made it the largest telecom provider in Africa, recently overtaking the Nigerian provider MTN.
The bid floated to get franchisees will be closed on December 27, 2017, and the technical evaluation will be opened on January 3, 2018.
For Fasil Alemayehu, assistant professor of Law and a practising lawyer, the partnership is just an outsourcing agreement. He says, "the telecom has monopolised the main telecommunication system, and sharing the subsidiary services is not a surprise."
He also remembers one official summarising the telecom's monopoly as "no farmer will sell his dairy cow unless it stops milking".
Andualem, on the contrary, asserted that the telecom has been subsidising services for its customers, especially students.
"The telecom looks forward to delivering genuine products to its customers rather than collect profits from them," Andualem told Fortune.